Endometriosis affects 10% of people who menstruate - but it’s still surrounded by so much misinformation and mystery. Here we’ll break down the basics of this complex condition.
- Endometriosis is characterised by tissue similar to the womb lining growing elsewhere in the body
- Endo is connected to our menstrual well-being but it’s not just about periods
- Pain is one of the most common symptoms but it can also have a much wider impact on our health - from our gut to our mental wellbeing
- There is currently no known cure for endometriosis but there are lifestyle changes you can make to help manage symptoms
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a condition that impacts around 1 in 10 people with periods. It's (wrongly) often thought of as just ‘painful, heavy periods’. But it’s a lot more complex than that. The condition can cause chronic inflammation within the whole body and lead to issues with digestion, the immune system and fertility.
One of the key characteristics of the condition is having tissue like the womb lining (known as endometrial tissue) growing outside of the womb. This usually occurs in other areas of the pelvic region, such as the fallopian tubes or ovaries. But, it can also grow in other areas of the body - from the bladder and bowel to the lungs and nerves, although this is uncommon.
Wherever this tissue grows, it acts similarly to the lining of the womb. This means that it becomes inflamed and attempts to ‘shed’. In a regular cycle, our womb lining sheds each month and becomes our period - and that’s totally normal. But, for tissue growing outside of the womb, this shedding cannot escape. Instead, it forms scar tissue - or adhesions - which is extremely painful
Symptoms of Endometriosis
Pain is certainly one of the biggest symptoms of endometriosis. If you are struggling with debilitating period pain and heavy periods, we highly recommend speaking to your doctor. But, endometriosis can cause different types of pain, at any time of your cycle including:
- Pelvic pain
- Aches and pains in the lower stomach, legs back
- Pain during or after sex
- Pain when going to the toilet
- Discomfort during ovulation
Aside from pain, there is a long list of other symptoms that can be connected to endometriosis, including:
- Issues with digestion - including constipation and diarrhoea
- Blood in urine or faeces
- Issues with the immune system
- Chronic fatigue
- Mental health conditions including depression
- Fertility issues
Getting diagnosed with endometriosis
It can be very difficult to get a clear diagnosis of endometriosis - in fact, it takes an average of 8 years to be diagnosed with the condition. This is down to a few factors.
Firstly, we are still batting to close the gender pain gap. Women are often dismissed and disbelieved when they come to reporting pain - especially if it has anything to do with their periods. The idea that period pain is ‘normal’ is something we need to change - both within our society and within our healthcare systems.
Secondly, because the symptoms of endometriosis can be so far-reaching, it is often misdiagnosed as something else. It’s sadly not uncommon for endo to be confused with:
- Gut health conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS),
- Acute health issues like Appendicitis
- Other conditions connected to chronic pain, like Fibromyalgia.
We need to fight for more awareness and more research into the condition. That way, eventually, healthcare professionals will be better prepared to spot the signs of endometriosis and give patients the care they need.
Endometriosis is not something you can fully diagnose through a blood test or abdominal scans. Many people only get confirmation that they have endometriosis when they have surgery to remove or investigate scar tissue. This usually only happens after years of pain and many visits to the doctor.
Is there a cure for endometriosis?
There is currently no cure for endometriosis. For some people, surgery to remove scar tissue can help to reduce pain and help the body function properly. However, there are never any guarantees that the endometriosis will ‘flare up’ again or that more tissue will start to grow elsewhere in the body. Some people also take birth control to help stop their cycle and reduce symptoms. In reality, this is really only masking the issue and whilst it might be helpful in the short term, it's not a healthy long-term solution.
Whilst the lack of a cure can be disheartening for anyone living with the condition, there are some things you can do to help manage your symptoms and lead a happier, healthier life with endometriosis.
Supporting our gut health can make a huge difference when it comes to managing endometriosis. Eating foods that are natural anti-inflammatories, like berries, fatty fish and dark leafy greens, can also help keep symptoms under control.
Sleep & Stress Relief
Many people in the endo community find that stress can be a big trigger when it comes to endo pain flare-ups. Trying to find activities that help you reduce stress is not only hopeful for your physical health - but your mental well-being too.
It might be hard to find the motivation to get moving if you’re struggling with endometriosis. However, low-impact exercises like walking and yoga can help reduce pain, release muscle tension, beat fatigue and boost your mood.
Natural Pain Relief
Many people with endometriosis worry about the amount of pain medication they need to take to get through the day. Whilst medication is sometimes needed, finding natural pain relief alternatives can be helpful. The Myoovi kit has been proven to reduce period pain and many people in the endometriosis community have found it pretty transformative!